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These Anti-Obamacare Ads Are Really Getting Stale

UPDATE #6: Los Angeles Times:

The problem is the photograph was taken two days after the July 2012 mass shootings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, when Udall and Obama visited a hospital to console the injured and families of the victims. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was also on the scene, was cropped out of the advertisement.

Several families of the victims were quick to condemn the use of the photo, calling it “an utter disgrace.”

“To insinuate the somber expressions were for anything other than their compassionate response to our heartbreak is beyond unconscionable,” the families said in a written statement.

Americans for Prosperity quickly removed the photograph and apologized to the families, replacing the offending shot with another photo of the senator and the president — shown in a ghoulish shade as a female narrator criticizes Udall for his healthcare vote.

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UPDATE #5: The original ad has now been taken down, but not before we grabbed a copy for posterity:

You can see the new version, without the photo from the Aurora shooting aftermath here.

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UPDATE #4: The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels:

"They will do anything and don't care who they hurt," [Sandy Phillips] said. "They took a picture showing great compassion for the parents and people of that shooting and made it twisted."

…The group has since removed the photo from the ad, said Adam Nicholson, state communications manager for AFP.

AFP's Colorado's director Dustin Zvonek said of pulling the image from its ad: "Fortunately we can and will change the image. Sen. Udall can't change his record that led to over 335,000 Coloradans receiving letters indicating that their health care policy had been canceled."

AFP Colorado later used its Twitter account to say: "AFP regrets erroneously using the image; and we sincerely apologize to Aurora families."

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UPDATE #3: Via Eli Stokols, Americans for Prosperity is pulling and recutting the ad to remove the offensive image:

Had to get another shot in there, did they? This comes just as family members of Aurora shooting victims issue a statement demanding the ad be removed from broadcast:

Aurora Victim Family Members Demand AFP Pull Ad with Image from Theater Tragedy

Family members whose loved ones were killed in the Aurora Theater shooting on July 20, 2012, today issued the following statement in response to an AFP television ad attacking Senator Udall over Obamacare:

"The use of an image taken from the President's visit to Colorado to meet with us after our children were killed in the Aurora Theater shooting is an utter disgrace. And to insinuate the somber expressions were for anything other than their compassionate response to our heartbreak is beyond unconscionable. Americans for Prosperity is exploiting our tragedy for political gain and this ad should be pulled from the air immediately. We hope Colorado television stations will exercise sound judgment and not air this ad until AFP removes the image."

Theresa Hoover, mother of AJ Boik
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, parents of Jessica Ghawi
Terry and Tom Sullivan, parents of Alex Sullivan
Caren and Tom Teves, parents of Alex Teves

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UPDATE #2: FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

The second TV ad from the group Americans For Prosperity attacking Colorado Sen. Mark Udall focuses on the 335,000 health insurance policy cancellation letters mailed to Coloradans as a result of the Affordable Care Act that Udall supported.

That figure — 335,000 people whose “plans were cancelled due to Obamacare”, the ad’s narrator says — has been disputed by Democrats, who point out that 92 percent of those individuals were offered options to renew their coverage…

Additionally, Democrats criticized the AFP ad’s use of an photograph of Udall standing next to President Obama, both with somber expressions, as the narrator remarks “…all because Mark Udall said yes to Obamacare.”

The image was taken in July 2012 at Children’s Hospital in Aurora moments after Obama and Udall met with family members of those killed and injured just days earlier in the Aurora theater shooting.

“Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated, all Coloradans can agree that using imagery from a visit to comfort the victims of the tragedy in Aurora is out-of-bounds for political attacks,” Chris Harris, Udall’s spokesman, told FOX31 Denver Wednesday. [Pols emphasis]

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UPDATE: The factual problems with Americans For Prosperity's newest ad (detailed below) are bad enough, but here's something else that is, or at least should be, offensive on a bipartisan level.

afpauroraad

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Anti-Obamacare Strategy Leaving Republicans in the Cold

Republicans out in the cold on Obamacare

D’oh!

Longtime Colorado Pols reader Republican 36 posted a fascinating diary last night about Republican Rep. Mike Coffman raising money with a different message on Obamacare. You can read the entire diary here, but here's the key excerpt:

Today I received a letter soliciting a campaign contribution from Coffman that contained a "confidential memo from Tyler Sandberg, his campaign manager, deriding Obamacare and making the usual false claims that "350,000" (everyone else says its 335,000) Coloradans had their health insurance canceled (forgetting to mention 92% received renewal notices in the same envelope with the cancelation of last year's policy) and claiming Obamacare "will be a significant issue this election," and claiming "It is a very real issue causing very real harm to Colorado families." In other words, at least in Mr. Sandberg's opinion, he lines up with the "Old Coffman" and wants Obamacare repealed.

However, Coffman's cover letter takes an altogether different position on Obamacare. In his fear based plea for contributions, he tees off on Nancy Pelosi and makes the following statement:

coffmanletter

This is a subtle message from Mike Coffman's campaign that contains a startling reality: The incumbent Republican in perhaps the most competitive Congressional seat in America is no longer soliciting support based on a message of "repeal Obamacare." This is not a message that Coffman's campaign was likely to just toss out there without having numbers to back it up, which makes it very likely that Republicans are seeing polling numbers indicating that voters are getting tired of the anti-Obamacare message and looking for candidates to talk about how to "amend" or "reform" the law instead.

There's plenty of reason to believe that Coffman's move to an "amend and reform" message is not just a flash in the pan. As our friends at "The Fix" noted on Monday, President Obama is encouraging Democratic candidates to run with an overt pro-Obamacare message:

President Obama announced last week that more than eight million people had signed up for insurance via the federal marketplace, a surge of last-minute activity that not even the most optimistic administration allies could have hoped for. And, then there was the news from the Congressional Budget Office that the health-care law will cost $100 billion less than projected over the next decade.

Amid a (rare) victory lap on the law, Obama was asked whether the news of the past week meant Democratic candidates should run on the law this fall rather than away from it. His answer?  "I think Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact….we're helping because of something we did."

Late last month, after a series of anti-Obamacare ads were being debunked across the country, the Washington Post took note of what it called "The incredible shrinking Obamacare sob story." The problems with an anti-Obamacare message have continued here in our state; as Colorado Pols was first to report yesterday, the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity group is apparently having difficulty finding a "real" person who is a "victim" of Obamacare.

All of this is very bad news for Republican candidates in Colorado who were hoping to ride an anti-Obamacare message to victory in November. Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner, for one, is basing his entire campaign on trying to tie Obamacare to Sen. Mark Udall. If this message isn't working, Gardner won't be the only Republican looking for a new job.

It’s Official: Hickenlooper Pulling Away From GOP “Clown Car”

His opponents are the ones dropping like a rock.

His opponents are the ones dropping like a rock.

Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post is first to write up today:

Gov. John Hickenlooper beats all four Republican rivals in a new poll that shows he's favored by women voters and has a slight advantage with crucial unaffiliated voters.

Of the four GOP candidates on the primary ballot, former Congressman Tom Tancredo presents the stiffest challenge to Hickenlooper, but loses to the Democratic governor by 7 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday morning.

Since Quinnipiac began polling Colorado voters in June 2013, Hickenlooper's favorability ratings have increased from 45 percent to 51 percent, while his unfavorability ratings have decreased from 42 percent to 37 percent.

Quinnipiac's release on today's poll of the Colorado gubernatorial race underscores how women voters–more to the point, ongoing GOP alienation of women voters–gives incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper a growing advantage over any potential Republican opponent.

Hickenlooper's leads over possible Republican contenders are:

47 – 40 percent, over former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo. Men back Tancredo 47 – 42 percent while women go to Hickenlooper 53 – 34 percent. Independent voters go Democratic 44 – 39 percent.

48 – 38 percent over Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Men back Gessler by a slim 44 – 41 percent margin while women back Hickenlooper 55 – 32 percent. Independent voters go Democratic 43 – 36 percent.

48 – 39 percent over former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, with men to Beauprez 46 – 41 percent and women for Hickenlooper 55 – 33 percent. Independent voters go Democratic 45 – 36 percent.

47 – 38 percent over former State Sen. Mike Kopp, with men for Kopp 44 – 40 percent and women for Hickenlooper 54 – 32 percent. Independent voters go Democratic 44 – 36 percent.

"Strong support from women and an edge among independent voters give Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper a solid foothold in his reelection effort," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. 

Looking beyond the gubernatorial race, it's certainly not all good news for Democrats in today's Q-poll: the same poll that gives Hickenlooper a decisive edge over his opponents demonstrates ongoing confusion among voters over the gun safety legislation passed by Democrats in 2013. 56% of respondents still oppose "the state's stricter new gun control laws," even while they support universal background checks for gun purchases–one of those very same laws–by an overwhelming 85%. Only 34% of respondents say the General Assembly is doing a good job. Note that the question isn't qualified by partisanship, but it's a Democratic majority in both chambers.

Bottom line: it doesn't surprise us to see Hickenlooper pulling away from a pack of undistinguished GOP candidates, who are in many ways more liabilities to their party than assets. Assuming that trajectory continues, Democrats can start looking at ways to trickle Hickenlooper's strength down the ticket–where it's very much needed.

Coffman flip-flops on Obamacare

(Wow – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Rep. Mike Coffman.

Rep. Mike Coffman.

As everyone knows, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is locked in a very competitive race with former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. Coffman's ultra conservative record includes scores of votes to repeal and defund Obamacare. In other words he wants to destroy the President's signature policy accomplishment. As late as March 26, 2014, less than a month ago, Kurtis Lee of the Denver Post reported that Coffman had joined U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in demanding Speaker Romanoff join them in calling for the repeal of Obamacare.

A lot has happened in the past twenty-seven days. Over eight (8) million people have found health insurance on the state and federal exchanges thanks to Obamacare. Millions of uninsured people now have basic health care under Medicaid and healthcare costs are rising at the slowest rate in over fifty (50) years and, as fr those skyrocketing premiums predicted by the hard right – it isn't happening. Where does that leave Mike Coffman and his insistence on repealing Obamacare because in his opinion it is a disaster? he facts and public opinion are now running against him and as usual he has now flip-flopped on the issue less than a month after he demanded that his opponent call for the repeal of Obamacare.

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AFP Trots Out Dubious “Obamacare Victim” Tomorrow

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: It would appear that the press isn't buying what AFP is selling.

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Carol Perry.

Carol Perry.

A press release from conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity announces a press conference tomorrow at the Colorado Capitol, going after Democratic Sen. Mark Udall (who else?) for his support of Obamacare (what else?):

This Wednesday Americans for Prosperity – Colorado will hold a press conference on the west steps of the state capitol with AFP President Tim Phillips, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, and Carol Perry, a Coloradan whose health insurance premiums have spiked due to ObamaCare. The presser will explain AFP’s goals in holding Senator Mark Udall accountable for his support for ObamaCare.

Americans for Prosperity Press Conference
With Senator Bill Cadman, AFP President Tim Phillips, and ObamaCare victim Carol Perry [Pols emphasis]
8:30 AM Wednesday, April 23rd
West Steps State Capitol

Being inclined as we are, after so many "Obamacare horror stories" have collapsed under minimal scrutiny, to approach supposed victims of the Affordable Care Act trotted out by Americans for Prosperity with a jaundiced eye, we did some basic checking on "Obamacare victim" Carol Perry. And once again, we're really glad we did! Pay attention, reporters covering tomorrow's presser:

According to the Colorado Secretary of State's office, Carol Perry of Douglas County has donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, Ryan Frazier on the federal side, and Tom Tancredo's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Perry's Secretary of State records also show a donation of $100 for an unknown purpose to Kelly Maher, now the director of conservative group Compass Colorado. We're not sure why that donation to Maher is even in the campaign finance system, as we don't think Maher has been a candidate. But needless to say, it's a huge red flag when evaluating Perry's authenticity.

Perry also appears to be a frequent witness in favor of Republicans on a wide variety of issues. We've found records of her testifying against last year's gun safety bills. In the 2012 elections, Perry was a public face of My Purse Politics (photo above right), a a project of the Conservative Women's Alliance aimed at turning out the woman conservative vote. But one of the most amusing, and telling, press hits for Carol Perry came last June in testimony on the lack of respect for "political diversity" at the University of Colorado:

Carol Perry, who testified to the board, said she would never send her daughters to CU because of what she perceives to be a persistent liberal bias.

Okie dokie then!

So, does this mean Carol Perry might not be the most reliable source on the horrors of Obamacare, much like other "horror stories" hyped by Americans For Prosperity in ads ruled "misleading" by fact-checkers from coast to coast? Obviously, we haven't heard her particular story yet, so there's no way we can say that for sure.

But based on what we know about AFP and now Mrs. Perry, we're more than a little skeptical.

“Respect”–Udall Tears Into Gardner Over Banning Abortion

UPDATE: Cory Gardner's campaign responds with what appears to be their stock response on abortion and Personhood questions. Eli Stokols of Fox 31 reports:

Gardner’s campaign responded quickly, attacking Udall for going negative and alleging that the ad distorts Gardner’s record.

“After nearly two decades in Washington, Senator Udall has decided to launch his reelection campaign with a negative, misleading attack ad because he has no record of accomplishments,” Gardner campaign manager Chris Hansen said in a statement. “While Coloradans sound the call for new leadership, Senator Udall continues to lie about Cory Gardner’s record while distorting his own.

Gardner's campaign is sticking with this approach in order to defend his own background with the abortion issue: Making a broad accusation that opponents are "distorting Gardner's record." We suppose there is nothing much else for Gardner to say in response to the two main points of the ad, that he 1) supported legislation that would make abortion a felony, and 2) he was a supporter of Personhood for years before his surprise flip-flop in March.

If you have a weak defense, all that's left is to play offense.

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Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is up with his campaign's first TV spot of the election season–and it's a powerful kickoff, hitting GOP opponent Cory Gardner squarely on his past support for banning abortion and "Personhood." From Udall's release:

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Gardner assures radio host that his “pro-life” record “will always be on my record”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

On conservative KNUS radio last week, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner assured listeners that he remains "pro-life" even though he recently un-endorsed the personhood amendment, which would ban abortion in Colorado.

"I remain a pro-life legislator who believes that my record actually speaks for itself while I’ve been in Congress," Gardner told KNUS radio host Steve Kelley.

If his record speaks for itself, does Gardner stand behind it? Because left out of the radio conversation was the annoying fact that Gardner's legislative record in Congress includes his endorsement of federal personhood legislation, which he has yet to un-endorse. His name is still right there, having joined as a co-sponsor in July of last year.

Gardner also told Kelley:

"If you look at my record, it is a pro-life record. And that will always be on my record, and continue to be a part of it. So, I think that that is something that we have not been trying to turn away from." [Bigmedia emphasis]

Gardner's "pro-life" record, which (in case you missed it) he says "will always be on my record," also includes co-sponsorship of bills in Congress aiming to de-fund Planned Parenthood and to re-define "rape" to include only the "forcible" kind. (Gardner later said his effort to redefine rape was a misunderstanding.)

His "always-on-my-record" record at the state legislature includes sponsorship of legislation banning all abortion, even for rape and incest, as well as other anti-abortion bills, like one mandating ultrasounds prior to abortion. These have yet to be un-endorsed.

Gardner's response to Kelley, touting his anti-abortion credentials to receptive ears, sounds like Gardner's statement at a Tea Party forum in 2009, when he was running for Congress for the first time.

Gardner was asked if he'd carry legislation banning abortion, and he replied, "Yes. And I have a legislative background to back it up."

Gardner later told journalists he would not carry anti-abortion legislation in Congress. Then he did it.

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Laura Boggs Running for State Board of Education

Laura Boggs

Laura Boggs

We've been documenting in this space the right-wing takeover of the Jefferson County School Board, a change that took place last November that was driven in part by onetime Jeffco School Board Member Laura Boggs. The far-right Boggs is now trying to move her voucher-loving education agenda to the state level, challenging incumbent Democrat Jane Goff for a spot on the State Board of Education in CD-7.

As Goff announced Monday in an email to supporters (full text after the jump):

This is the same former Jeffco school board member who warned that she would “tear this county apart.” This is the same former Jeffco school board member who threatened to derail a $32.8 million federal grant to support teacher leadership and development initiatives in the district. This is the same person who, during her single term on the Jeffco board, was censured twice for behavior unbefitting her position. (News coverage here and here.)  

While we are not surprised to see a pro-voucher, right-wing candidate emerge for State School Board, we are a little perplexed that it is Boggs herself. Conservative school board victories in Jefferson County were won in a below-the-radar fashion last fall, but Boggs will not slip by unnoticed; she is not so much a lightning rod for criticism as she is a full-on storm cloud. The presence of Boggs on the November ballot will likely do more to engage Jefferson County parents against Republicans.

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Red-Light Camera Ban Passes Senate

UPDATE: Food for thought as legislators consider Senate Bill 14-181, here are some interesting points in favor of red light cameras from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police:

Year-to-year changes in red-light running fatalities reveal an average annual decrease of 5.6% from 2007 to 2011. U.S. and worldwide studies show a 25 to 30 % reduction in injury crashes at locations with red-light safety cameras, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports. A five-year study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2011 found red-light cameras saved more than 150 lives in 14 of the largest U.S. cities, reducing fatalities by 24 percent.

Cameras get drivers’ attention, and reduce the most dangerous type of collisions – right angle crashes. A 2011 Texas Transportation Institute study of 11,122 crash records from 275 intersections showed 633 fewer crashes at intersections with cameras; and a 32% decrease in right-angle crashes…

The use of photo speed radar enforcement is already strictly limited to residential streets, school zones and construction zones. It can be used only where the speed limits is not more than 35 miles per hour. A violator must be exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour to receive a ticket. Photo speed radar vans are manned by qualified personnel. Red light cameras are deployed at selected high risk intersections. Fines are limited to a maximum $40 for speeding and $75 for red light infractions. No points are assessed against a driver’s record.

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red-light-camera

As the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports, the red-light camera ban bill, supported by a bipartisan election-year coalition and hotly opposed by local government reaping big bucks from installed cameras, has passed the Colorado Senate:

At its core, Senate Bill 181 would bar local municipalities from using automated vehicle-identification systems that pinpoint drivers. Along with red-light cameras, the measure includes photo radar cameras that detect speed.

The bill moved out of the Senate on a 21-14 vote. The only amendment attached allows for toll roads to continue using photo radar cameras that detect speed.

The measure has support from Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday was noncommittal toward the bill. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said at an afternoon news conference he's seen earlier versions of the bill, but has yet to view its current form.

"I think there are a number of people that feel a level of anger over what they feel is an intrusion and is not making their roads safer, and their opinion is that it's a way for local governments to try to increase their revenues," Hickenlooper said when asked about his personal views on the concept of banning photo red-light cameras. "That creates a real frustration in a lot of elected officials."

Gov. John Hickenlooper's sympathy for those poor, misunderstood elected officials notwithstanding, the public at large seems to be the most "frustrated" party over red-light cameras. The disagreement over the public safety value of these systems is difficult to sort through legitimately, due to what's perceived to be an ulterior motive to raise badly-needed revenue for local government–one thing red-light cameras excel at. Sometimes it falls to your humble hosts to remind our readers that revenue for our local governments is a good thing, or failing that at least a necessary evil–and if TABOR won't let governments get it the old-fashioned way, they've got to get creative.

A poll follows: will Gov. Hickenlooper sign Senate Bill 14-181 if it passes?

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Those Wacky GOP Candidates – Where Are They Now?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado's Republican party has put up some rather entertaining candidates for the state legislature this year, and I just had to post some updates on them.

Nate Marshall posted an official withdrawal from the HD23 race on April 9, after being exposed as an active white supremacist. However, his campaign committee is still active. Is he hoping the outrage will die down? Marshall's latest post on his Facebook page links to an article positing that liberals are "purging Christians". Huh?

Right now, it appears that  Max Tyler won't have an opponent in HD23, as the committee of the other GOP candidate, Christopher Hadsall, is inactive.

 

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Coffman To Minority Language Voters: “Pull Out a Dictionary”

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), left, with anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), left, with anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

​Rep. Mike Coffman has spent a great deal of time in recent months "reaching out" to the many ethnic groups in the new Sixth Congressional District, working hard to burnish his credentials with Asian and African immigrants in addition to his now-famous reversals on immigration policy–all directly intended to appease the large percentage of immigrant and ethnic minority voters in his district.

But as we've explored at length since Coffman began his transformation from Tom Tancredo's firebrand successor to embattled incumbent desperately trying to win over constituencies he routinely disparaged before redistricting, Coffman wasn't always such a nice guy to immigrants–especially where it concerns duties of citizenship like voting rights. Back in the summer of 2011, "Old Coffman" actually proposed the repeal of a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires bilingual ballots be distributed to qualifying minority language populations.

It's hard to imagine today's Mike Coffman seriously proposing to repeal part of the Voting Rights Act to make it harder for some of the very same immigrant communities he's courting today to vote, but in 2011, Coffman defended his "cost saving" proposal in surprisingly blunt terms. Here's a video clip from Spanish-language Univision News where Coffman explains his 2011 position–with translation below:

OLIVIA MENDOZA: To me, this is a big step backward. 
 
DANIEL TUCCIO: Disagreement was to be expected by pro immigrant rights advocacy groups  who are angry over the Congressman's position.
 
MIKE COFFMAN: One thing they ought to do is pull out a dictionary when they are at home, because the ballots have been sent to them a long time in advance. [Pols emphasis] They can seek help from friends who speak English, look up words they do not know; sometimes you have to put a little more effort to assimilate into our culture.
 
TUCCIO: Olivia Mendoza disagrees.

MENDOZA: The foundation of this country is the participation of citizens of the United States in our democracy. When we begin to say that it costs us too much to have citizens engaged…what country are we going to become?

"What country are we going to become?" If "Old Coffman" had gotten his way, it seems we'd be a nation where immigrants who want to vote "pull out a dictionary!" Nobody's going to argue that immigrants should never bother to learn English, but English proficiency is not a requirement for citizens to vote in America. That's why we have a Voting Rights Act to help make sure it doesn't become a requirement, de facto or otherwise.

Bottom line: "New Coffman®" should be really upset at "Old Coffman" for this one.

Colorado PERA’s Recent Use of Political Influence to Break Pension Contracts.

Fellow ColoradoPols readers, this morning, a post relating to the use of political influence by supporters of the 2010 Colorado PERA pension contract breach appeared on ColoradoPols.com.  The post suggests that proponents of the pension contract breach might attempt to politically influence the Colorado Supreme Court prior to the court's consideration of claims in the PERA pension lawsuit, Justus v. State.  In approximately six weeks, the Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral arguments relating to the 2010 Colorado PERA pension contract breach.

(For readers new to this topic, in 2010, the Colorado Legislature enacted a bill, SB10-001, that retroactively eliminated Colorado PERA pension COLA benefits for which current PERA retirees had exchanged decades of labor and pension contributions.  The idea that the Colorado Legislature would grant private sector insurance companies similar authority to ignore contracted COLA benefits on annuities they have sold is of course, absurd.)

Given that our very identity as Coloradans rests on the rule of law in our state, the integrity of our Colorado courts, and the sanctity of our Colorado Constitution, I respectfully request that ColoradoPols.com promote my response below.

Here is the April 20, 2014 post on ColoradPols.com:

"The SecurePera.com (proponents of the PERA pension contract breach bill, SB10-001) has sent out a mass email announcing a teleconference next month, and the retiree lawsuit is one of the topics.  I suspect they'll encourage SB10-001 supporters to make their presence felt during the oral argument phase of the lawsuit on June 4 (during oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court.)

The spectacle of seeing some misguided (or intimidated) retirees supporting the breach of their own pension contracts is surely a dream come true to such uber right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, and John Arnold, infamous for his role in the massive Enron fraud.

It wouldn't surprise me if a certain retired school principal, who is also both a SecurePera supporter and PERA ambassador, tries to rally a contingent of SB10-001 supporters.  This goes along with my supposition that a handful of high-end retirees (such as school principals) with 30 plus years of service make up the bulk of the retired SB10-1 supporters.  A 2% annual increase on a $100K plus benefit works for them."

Here is my response to the April 20, 2014 ColoradoPols post:

First, we do not know with certainty that the supporters of the 2010 PERA contract breach will attempt, or have actually contemplated, any sort of political demonstration (or political presence) during Colorado Supreme Court oral arguments in the case Justus v. State on June 4, 2014.

However, the proponents of the Colorado PERA pension contract breach did indeed use political maneuvering, and the force of purchased lobbying influence, to achieve their desired outcome before the Colorado General Assembly in 2010.  What arrogance they had in 2009/2010 to assume that the property of others can be casually taken in Colorado, that one board of Colorado state government is somehow exempt from the strictures of the Colorado Constitution, that government debts can legally be shifted onto elderly pensioners.

Colorado PERA pension administrators, and Colorado PERA Board members CAN indeed buy lobbying muscle at the General Assembly with our PERA trust fund dollars.  But, Colorado PERA administrators and Board members CANNOT buy influence at the Colorado Supreme Court.

Perhaps the group of PERA contract breach advocates will try to "make their presence felt" in the Colorado Supreme Court Chambers, but such a step would be misguided.

Colorado PERA's Board and their hired lobbyists used politics to push the COLA-taking bill, SB10-001 through the legislative process in 2010.  Ultimately, 27 lobbyists reported positions in support of SB10-001 to the Colorado Secretary of State.

From Chalkbeat.org in 2009:

"PERA is 'obviously gearing up for some heavy-duty lobbying,' one observer noted.  The agency has hired two lobbyists from the firm Colorado Communique, Collon Kennedy and Steve Adams, former president of the Colorado AFL-CIO.

The pension system also has hired Mary Alice Mandarich, a well-connected Democratic lobbyist who formerly was chief of staff for Senate Democrats and who worked on campaigns for former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, former Gov. Roy Romer and gubernatorial candidate Gail Schoettler.

Coalition members have their own lobbyists, and the well-staffed higher education lobby is sure to be involved in this issue as well."

http://co.chalkbeat.org/2009/10/22/pera-woes-loom-large-for-education/

But, the Colorado PERA retiree COLA lawsuit, Justus v. State, does not address a political question.  It addresses a legal question.  Can Colorado public pension contracts be abrogated in order to minimize taxation in the state with the lowest per capita state taxation in the nation?  The Colorado Supreme Court is confronted by a legal question.  Can the court ignore our foundational document to achieve a desired political outcome?

The Colorado Court of Appeals has found that the Colorado Constitution is beyond the reach of purchased lobbying muscle at the Colorado Legislature.  I sincerely hope that all Colorado courts will continue to defend the Colorado Constitution and public pension contractual rights.

I believe that the Colorado Supreme Court must proceed with extreme caution to prevent all political considerations from infecting litigation of the case, Justus v. State.

I recognize that one current (and in my view, quite talented) member of the Colorado Supreme Court has previously represented Colorado PERA for the Colorado Attorney General's Office (I expect that she will not participate in this case.)

I recognize that another current Colorado Supreme Court justice did not participate in the court's earlier action in this case.

I recognize that a third (newly appointed) member of the Colorado Supreme Court has previously worked at a firm that has represented Colorado PERA for many years, and was a colleague (and a shareholder at the firm while PERA was a client) of the long-time party lawyer who represented Colorado PERA in the current lawsuit, Justus v. State.

http://coloradopols.com/diary/51026/congratulations-to-our-new-colorado-supreme-court-justice

Finally, I recognize that in 2009, the Colorado PERA Board of Trustees hired a former Colorado Supreme Court Justice to draft a legal memorandum that would support PERA pension contract breach.  For some reason, the Colorado PERA Board sought out this former Colorado Supreme Court Justice (who is not a specialist in public pension law) rather than seeking out an attorney who has spent a lifetime in a public pension legal practice.

Why did the PERA Board seek out this former Colorado Supreme Court Justice, whose practice does not specialize in public pension litigation?  Why seek out this former Colorado Supreme Court Justice in lieu of an attorney with decades of experience in public pension litigation, such as Cindy Birley, a proponent of the PROSPECTIVE pension reform bill, SB12-149 adopted by Colorado Legislature in 2012?

http://coloradopols.com/diary/39652/colorados-statutory-double-standard-on-public-pension-contracts

In 2009, the PERA Board hired this judicially connected (and accomplished) former Colorado Supreme Court Justice to create a legal rationale by which the Board and their union collaborators might seize assets that belong to PERA pensioners.  It is incomprehensible that this former Supreme Court Justice chose, at the end of an impressive legal career, to be part of a scheme to break public employee contracts.

See this article:

http://coloradopols.com/diary/39311/jean-dubofsky-one-of-a-dwindling-breed-of-unabashed-liberals

When the Colorado PERA Board hired former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Dubofsky to create a PERA contract breach rationale did they disclose to her the fact that PERA's own representatives identified the PERA COLA benefit as a contractual PERA liability at the inception of the "automatic" PERA COLA benefit?  That is, did PERA fully inform their hired attorney?  If so, why have PERA's current attorneys shifted from their original "actuarial necessity" legal defense strategy espoused after receipt of the Dubofsky COLA-taking product, to their current "DeWitt-based" legal strategy?  Why are they now ignoring the Dubofsky memorandum?  For that matter, why are they ignoring the legal writings of their own current Executive Director and former General Counsel Greg Smith on the contractual nature of PERA pension benefits?

March 24, 1993 (1:32 PM – 2:28 PM)

Rob Gray, Director of Government Relations, Colorado PERA testifying to the Legislature's House Finance Committee in regard to the "automatic" PERA COLA benefit under consideration [in House Bill 93-1324]: “The PERA Board does support this bill.”  “We felt like it is something that is good pension policy . . . that it makes sense . . . THAT IT IS MAKING PERMANENT CHANGES, and also that it does help employers which is one of the goals of the bill.”  Rob Gray states that the proposed COLA "adds predictability for current and future retirees, people looking at leaving might look at this and say now I know how my future increases are going to be determined . . .”.  Rob Gray characterizes the "automatic" PERA COLA benefit as a Colorado PERA liability: “when a change in benefits is added, like this bill, it extends out the period for paying off that unfunded liability.” If you listen to the recording of this meeting, you will also hear a member of the House Finance Committee refer to the Colorado PERA COLA provision under consideration as a pension benefit that is “guaranteed,” “now and in the future.”  [Note that the contracted PERA COLA benefit adopted by the committee was in later years improved by the Colorado General Assembly to flat 3.5 percent level, constitutionally permissible as this "improvement" did not impair PERA pension contracts.])

In 2012, the Colorado Legislature adopted PROSPECTIVE, legal pension reform for Colorado county governments (administrative arms of the state.)  The bill, SB12-149, allows Colorado county governments to alter THE RATE OF FUTURE ACCRUAL of pension benefits in order to shore up county pension trust funds.  The Colorado Legislature is perfectly capable of adopting similar legislation that will apply to Colorado PERA, shoring up the PERA Trust Fund without retrospectively impairing existing PERA pension contracts.

Why was such PROSPECTIVE pension reform legislation not adopted for the Colorado PERA pension system in 2010?  This PROSPECTIVE pension reform legislation was not adopted in 2010, because it was not the POLITICAL PREFERENCE of PERA pension administrators and board members, hired PERA lobbyists, union lobbyists, some conservatives who were happy with any PERA pension cut, as well as corporate lobbyists glad to jump on the PERA contract breach bandwagon.

For all of these reasons, I expect that the Colorado Supreme Court will closely adhere to established Colorado public pension jurisprudence in this case, Justus v. State.

15 Years Ago Today: Columbine

columbinememorial

The Denver Post's Allison Noon:

Sunday marks the 15th year since the shooting at Columbine High School in which 12 students and a teacher were killed.

Indigo columbine flowers were in bloom around the bases of 13 stone markers at the permanent Columbine Memorial in Littleton's Clement Park on Saturday, when about 50 people honored the victims with a remembrance program.

Colorado Ceasefire Capitol Fund organized the program at the park amphitheater ahead of the anniversary that falls this year on Easter Sunday. The program included speeches from family members of two Columbine shooting victims and two victims of the Aurora theater shooting.

CBS4:

“We are part of an unwanted family. None of us asked to be part of this family, family of survivors of mass tragedy,” said [Coni] Sanders.

Unfortunately, that family is growing.

Tom Sullivan lost his son in the Aurora theater shootings.

“Thank you for the courage you have all had since that day. It has certainly strengthened me in my private moments,” said Sullivan.

Sandy Phillips lost her daughter.

“Their lives meant something. Not just to their families, but to the communities that they lived in,” said Phillips.

100 Years Ago Today: Ludlow

ludlowmonumentPhoto courtesy United Mine Workers of America

100 years ago today, a gunfight broke out between members of the Colorado National Guard and striking coal miners employed by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company near Trinidad, Colorado. During the fighting in and around a tent encampment of striking miners, eleven children and two women were killed when the tent above a pit they were taking shelter from the fighting in was set on fire. This event became known as the Ludlow Massacre, and shocked the nation into a greater awareness of the poor working conditions and exploitative "company town" economic predation faced by coal miners.

This event is being widely commemorated on its 100th anniversary today, and we'll update with coverage.

The “War On Women” Won’t End With Flip-Flops

GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.

GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.

An insightful story published yesterday evening at the Wall Street Journal takes a look at an emerging dominant theme in the biggest federal races in Colorado this election year–a desperate attempt by veteran Republican politicians to jettison their longstanding "anti-woman" baggage:

Wary of being on the losing side of the gender gap, Republican candidates are working to repel Democratic efforts to portray GOP policy on abortion, equal-pay laws and other matters as harmful to women.

In Colorado, Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman withdrew their support last month for "personhood" proposals that could limit access to birth control. In Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell hosted his first "women's symposium" last month…

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said Republicans are responding with mixed success to Democratic attacks that they are out of touch with women. She added, "Still, Republicans are doing a much better job by calling out Democrats for trying to divert attention from their chief liability, Obamacare."

…Democrats have criticized Messrs. Gardner and Coffman for backing statewide initiatives in 2010 and 2012 that would have treated a fetus like a person, outlawing most abortions and possibly some forms of birth control. Asked about the changes in position, staffers for the lawmakers said they recognized that voters had twice rejected "personhood" referenda. Mr. Gardner, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, called the possible limits on birth control "not right."

Ever since Rep. Cory Gardner made the obviously calculated decision to abandon his prior public support for the "Personhood" abortion ban initiatives, late on a Friday afternoon in unsuccessful hopes of minimizing the press coverage, there's been a lot of debate about what the best strategy is for Gardner–followed up swiftly by fellow GOP Rep. Mike Coffman–to extricate themselves from their records of very consistent support for banning abortion, even in cases where most voters would never stay with them like rape and incest victims.

The problem is, such debate presupposes it's possible to do that.

Gardner and Coffman have a big problem claiming legitimate "evolution" on these issues, since in both cases they have taken place against the backdrop of a changing constituency now repelled by their former position. In Coffman's case, redistricting has transformed his formerly ultra-safe Republican seat into one of the most competitive districts in America. As for Gardner, his longstanding proud support for "Personhood" and other total abortion bans was perfectly acceptable in his safe Republican seat, but as a U.S. Senate candidate, his support for "Personhood" is potentially lethal.

Once you think past the offered excuses for Gardner and Coffman's flip-flops, it becomes objectively clear, regardless of where you stand on the issue, that they switched positions to save their political hides. In Coffman's case, the length of his "evolution" has been protracted by his unexpectedly narrow win in 2012 over an underdog opponent, after Democrats failed to capitalize on redistricting with a top-tier challenger. But Coffman's switch is no less obviously political in nature than Gardner's–and both can be easily discredited as a result with the very same voters they hoped to mollify.

And that brings us to the point, what we consider to be a very important point that needs to sink in with Republicans, Democrats, and journalists: contrived flip-flopping just doesn't work. It didn't work for Mitt "Etch-a-Sketch" Romney, and it's not working for Gardner or Coffman. It's not working because it's demonstrably fake. In this space, we have consistently argued for nearly a decade that the best hope for Republicans is to start fielding more moderate candidates–ones that don't automatically disqualify themselves with positions on wedge issues that horrify women and independent voters. But they need to genuinely be moderate candidates on these issues, not holdovers from a previous generation trying to fake their way out from under their own liabilities.

Does that mean Republicans have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years like Moses, until all of the "Personhood"-saddled anti-choice Republican politicians are dead or out to pasture?

You know, folks, we don't make the rules. But maybe so.